The 2017 edition of Firefly kicked off Thursday with the likes of Maggie Rogers, K. Flay, Eden, Gryffin, and Glass Animals. The weekend was jam-packed with great music, a wide variety of food and fun things to do (apart from the music), and some insanely hot weather. Continue reading to catch a recap of each day for Firefly 2017.
The first act of the day that I caught was Maggie Rogers, the local singer/songwriter from Maryland, whose angelic voice and rhythmic beats have catapulted her into the spotlight recently. “This is my first ever festival,” she said after finishing her first song, “Color Song.” Her smiles and energetic movement around the stage immediately won over the crowd and captivated them for the next forty minutes. Her set featured some covers, including “Wannabe” from the Spice Girls and “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young. Her final song was “Alaska,” the one that prompted Pharrell Williams to comment, “I’ve never heard anyone like you before, and I’ve never heard anyone that sounds like that.” During the final number, the crowd sang and danced as energetically as Maggie did on stage.
Next up was the alt-pop/hip hop artist from L.A, K. Flay. Her deep and dynamic commentary about current events resonated with the crowd. She dominated the stage in such a way that engrossed the audience and pleaded them to listen closer to the lyrical anecdotes. I switched over to the Lawn Stage to catch some of O.A.R, and was blown away by the big band sound they had. Featuring guitars, trumpets, and a variety of other instruments, their sound could be heard across the festival and drew you in.
After O.A.R was Eden, the singer/producer based in Dublin. Eden combines electronic beats and rhythms with a guitar-heavy melody to create a truly unique form of electronic/dream-pop. He gracefully alternated between electronic/guitar based songs and songs that featured his vocals, a voice that I can best describe as psychedelic soul. Kaleo, the four piece band originally based out of Iceland, was next up over on the Lawn Stage. Their folky/blues/rock sound was captivating, and JJ’s distinct voice ranged from soft and relaxing to urgent and bluesy.
The headliner for the night was Glass Animals, the English psychedelic/indie rock band (it’s really hard to pin them down to one genre), and they have the potential to be one of the best sets of the festival. They opened with “Life Itself,” the lead single off of their newest release How to Be a Human Being. Throughout their set, front man Dave Bayley’s energy was contagious and had the crowd jumping and dancing. They played songs from both their new album and their 2014 debut, Zaba, including other hit singles like, “Gooey,” “Youth,” and “The Other Side of Paradise,” as well as old ones like “Cocoa Hooves,” and “Black Mambo.” Pineapples (a staple of a Glass Animals show) were scattered around the stage along with a giant glass pineapple hanging from the rafters that acted as a disco-ball, scattering light into the Woodlands. They finished the set with “Pork Soda,” (featuring the catchy chorus, ‘Pineapples are in my head’) and left behind a roaring crowd. The lighting was fantastic, the aesthetic was hypnotic, and the heavy beats with electric melodies combined for a memorable opening night to this year’s edition of Firefly.
Storms were in the forecast for the afternoon and evening, but the clouds parted ways for a blisteringly hot and muggy day in the Woodlands. I started the day off with Clubhouse, the five-piece indie pop group from Columbus, Ohio who attracted a large crowd in the secluded Treehouse Stage. “We were at Firefly two years ago and were dying to play on stage,” lead singer Max Reichert commented after the first song. “It’s surreal to be on stage playing for you guys right now.” Firefly has a knack for having small artists before they explode in popularity, and I have a feeling this could happen to Clubhouse. Their upbeat indie/synth pop is infectiously cheery and they have already gathered a large fan base at home, and a growing following across the country.
Next up was Dreamers (stay tuned for an interview with them), the alt-rock group based out of Manhattan. Their carefully blended drums and audacious guitar riffs have made them extremely popular on alt-rock radio stations, and gained them festival appearances across the country. I caught some of their regular performance and Coffeehouse session, and it’s always entertaining watching rockers strip down their performance. Judah & the Lion, the folk rockers from Nashville, were the first band to play on the Main Stage, and their high-energy guitar and banjo riffs blasted across the field. It was their first time at Firefly, and they saved their hit, “Take it All Back,” for their final song, which had the entire crowd singing along.
I was able to catch the second half of AFI’s set, and the long time rockers proved that they still got it and can put on a great show. Davey Havok’s vocal range can go anywhere from hardcore punk to soft and dreamy (especially evident with his new project, Dreamcar). Bob Moses, the electronic duo from Canada, put on an animated performance—I caught part of it before heading over to Franz Ferdinand. The Scottish rock band’s intense guitar backbone reverberated around the grounds and had people all around jamming out on the air guitar.
I also caught a bit of Lil Dicky’s set, which I didn’t necessarily enjoy, but I cannot deny his popularity. His set was insanely crowded, and people hanging in the back of the field were enjoying it as much as those jamming on the barrier. Up next on the Main Stage was the legendary rock band from LA, Weezer. While they don’t necessarily have the stage presence as they once did, it’s impossible not have a good time rocking out to “Say it Ain’t So,” and “Beverly Hills.” The highlight of the set was definitely Rivers donning a cape and crown for their first single off of their self-titled The White Album, “King of the World.”
After their set, Miike Snow and OK GO both started next door on the Backyard Stage and the Lawn Stage. I caught the beginning of Miike Snow’s set, knowing they play “Genghis Khan,” within their first few songs. After jamming out to that and basking in the atmosphere of the band’s production value, I headed over to OK GO. The Chicago based rockers have only played a handful of shows in the past year, and it was pretty cool to see a band I first started listening to almost ten years ago.
Finally, after nearly 10 hours of brutal heat, the sun had set and the Woodlands had started to cool down just in time for Twenty One Pilots. The beginning of the show was one of the most amusing introductions I’ve seen at any concert. It depicted an early, 50’s style Godzilla (named Firefly) destroying Coachella and the Hollywood sign, and Twenty One Pilots rising from the ashes. The stage was thrown into red light, and the duo from Columbus blasted into the spotlight, rattling off some hits from the album that started them on an upward spiral to popularity, Blurryface. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun dominate the stage in such a way that forces you to keep watching, wondering what they’ll do next. Tyler brought out his dad for an early Father’s Day moment (jumping around to “All I Do is Win”) and brought out Judah & the Lion for covers of “Tubthumping,” and “Jump Around.” Their set also featured Tyler standing on the crowd for “Holding on to You,” Josh on a drum island for, “Ride,” and Josh running on top of the crowd in a hamster ball. Tyler commented about the video that started their set: “It’s not that we don’t like Coachella…we can’t stand it.” The crowd roared in approval. “People always talk about Coachella but I’m like, have you been to Firefly?” Joseph added. This was their third time in the Woodlands, and they have killed it each time. As the confetti blasted during their final song, “Trees,” (silence, in the trees) I reflected on the wild journey the band has been on since I first started following them four years ago—just two kids from Ohio taking over the world.
Although I had no energy left, I made my way over to the Backyard Stage to catch some of Flume’s set before passing out. One of the best producers in the genre right now, the Australian’s live performance is as much of a visual act as it is musical. I left a little early to try and recover from the long day and prepare for the next two days.
A cluttered early afternoon saw Mondo Cozmo, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Muna, and T-Pain all performing within an hour of each other. A nice variety of indie rock, alternative, and whatever genre you call T-Pain started the day off on a great note. The indie folk band Magic Giant shrouded the Lawn Stage with feel-good, upbeat vibes that left a lasting impression. Their song, “Set on Fire,” has a dreamy, indie vibe that I have since been playing on repeat nonstop.
Andy Frasco & the U.N. was probably one of the best sets you missed over at the Treehouse Stage. The blues-rock band from LA perfectly matched the vibe of the secluded forest stage and had everyone swaying and feeling the rhythm. They are one of those bands that actually sound better live, and the energy Frasco has on stage is contagious. Across the grounds on the Lawn Stage, Francis & the Lights put on his uniquely encapsulating visual production that shows a live set is not just about the music. We would be seeing more of him later during Chance’s set.
Bob Dylan’s set was honestly quite forgettable, which seems blasphemous given his legendary career. His lyrics were generally incomprehensible, but have to give him credit for still performing live for over fifty years. The Galantis – Kesha conflict was truly difficult, as the Galantis set was wrenching to walk away from after they started. The Swedish EDM duo combine an insane visual production with heart-thumping, rave-starting beats. Meanwhile, Kesha, one of Firefly’s most notable bookings, absolutely killed it over on the Lawn Stage, performing her hits, “Tik Tok,” “Your Love is My Drug,” and “Timber.”
The second headliner of the night, The Weeknd, took the stage, jumping right into his hit, “Starboy.” I was not really a fan of the Canadian singer/songwriter before this show, and his live performance did not do anything to change my opinion. Nonetheless, his production and lighting was certainly impressive and captivated the massive crowd before they rushed over to see Chance the Rapper.
Chance the Rapper, the Chicago native who has burst onto the music stage in the past few years, took over the Backyard Stage with one of the largest crowds of the festival. His performance is best described as much more intense gospel choir rehearsal. Songs like “Blessing,” “Mixtape,” and “All We Got,” are heavily gospel/choir influenced, but Chance gives his own unique spin on the genre. Of course, he played his biggest hit to date, “No Problem,” while he bounced around stage, basking in the reality of playing in front of just shy of a hundred thousand people. Francis & the Lights made an appearance for a riveting rendition of “May I Have This Dance,” that was expected but nonetheless exciting, galvanizing the crowd’s enthusiasm. The reprise of “Blessings” that he finished with was a perfect ending to the set, bringing together everything Chance stands for and his incredible humility, even as he stands as one of the biggest artists in the world right now.
The final day of Firefly was by far the hottest, making the runs around the festival grounds more difficult. Busta Rhymes opened up the Main Stage at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, because why the heck not? The longtime rapper played a little bit of everything from his repertoire, including the crowd favorite, “Break Ya Neck.” The Strumbellas were next up on the Main Stage, blasting out their country/folk rock into the afternoon sun. This is a great smaller band to see live, and they showed that they were capable of putting out a great show even with a massive stage and audience.
Up next was Waka Flocka Flame, who, along with his intense rapping and dedication to throwing a party as well as performing a concert, was most noteworthy for the way he loved the ASL interpreters and even danced around with them. Back on the Main Stage was Bleachers, one of the acts I was most excited to see live. A longtime fan of fun., I loved Jack Antonoff’s new project the moment I heard “I Wanna Get Better,” the first song released under Bleachers’ name. The show came a few weeks after his new album, Gone Now (which has the potential to be one of my favorite albums of 2017), and he blended in new and old songs alike. He also brought out his dad for a special Father’s Day performance of “Go Your Own Way,” from Fleetwood Mac.
Next up over on the Lawn Stage was Misterwives, the indie pop band based in NYC. Their upbeat and softhearted sound combined with the infectious smiles from lead singer Mandy Lee made for a very enjoyable set. Plus, it was hard to stand (or sit) still during the animated finale, “Our Own House.” Immediately after Misterwives finished, Jared Leto and Thirty Seconds to Mars started up back over on the Main Stage. The longtime rockers from LA played songs from their most recent two albums, including an acoustic version of “The Kill (Bury Me),” and the classic, “Closer to the Edge.” Leto’s passion on stage and interactions with the crowd, including passing out popsicles and dropping massive balloons (which promptly blew away), made for a memorable set.
Back on the Lawn Stage, The Shins—led by longtime frontman James Mercer—started up with an intriguingly simplistic introduction. While they mostly played songs off their new album Heartworms, they made sure to play at least one song off of every album. “It’s really good to be back as The Shins this time,” Mercer grinned, having last performed at Firefly in 2014 with his side project Broken Bells. This was the best time slot for them to play, as the setting sun behind the woods made for a magically peaceful ambiance. However, the mood shifted considerably as The Shins concluded with “Sleeping Lessons,” and the crowd put on their rock hats and anxiously made their way across the field for Muse.
Wow. That’s all I can say about Muse. The English rockers made the most of their first time in Delaware, bringing a different kind of storm to the Woodlands. As they opened with their newest single, “Dig Down,” Matt Bellamy’s intense vocals and heavy guitar riffs indicated that this show would be an epic conclusion to Firefly. They hopped right into the guitar driven “Psycho,” featuring the Drill Sergeant narration, throwing the festival into a war-like atmosphere. They included one of my favorite songs of theirs, “The 2nd Law: Isolated System,” which gives off a beautifully dark mood ever since it was featured in the movie World War Z. The second half of their set saw hits “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Madness,” and “Time is Running Out,” before the brief encore period. They saved the best two for last, with “Uprising,” followed by the blissfully electric finale, “Knights of Cydonia.” The performance felt like it was a journey to another world, one dominated by intoxicating guitars, urgent vocals, and blissful rock.
Dillon Francis was the final act of Firefly 2017, and his house/trap/EDM mix was a perfect rave finale to the fest. There were too many glow stick drops to count, and after the final drop was, well, dropped, the festival goers that remained soaked in the cool nighttime air, reflecting on a successful four days.
Firefly will return to the Woodlands from June 14-17, 2018. Stay tuned for news on tickets, camping, and the line-up.